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Feds mum on 2009 embassy closures

OTTAWA – Foreign affairs officials were told not to announce they were closing embassies in 2009, newly released documents show.
Canada closed its embassies in Cambodia, Bosnia and Malawi, as well
as diplomatic missions in Hamburg, Germany, and Cape Town, South
Africa, that year.
But while government officials OK’d news releases and letters to go
out to the local communities, they decided not to announce the closures
in Canada.
“We were instructed not to issue a public document in Canada,” says
a March 24, 2009, memo to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon,
signed by Leonard Edwards, the department’s top bureaucrat.
“While there is no news release in Canada … the information
message on the five missions’ websites will be accessible in Canada
through the Internet.”
But the memo also notes foreign affairs officials were waiting for
the Privy Council Office to decide whether to release the information
to the public in the cities where the missions were closing.
The Privy Council Office is the bureaucratic arm of the Prime Minister’s Office.
An attached communications paper also notes the department expected
negative media reaction, predicting reporters would turn to “pundits”
such as former Canadian ambassadors, provincial officials and
parliamentarians “to validate their arguments.”
“(Non-governmental organizations) and think-tanks will speak out about closures that affect their agendas,” the memo reads.
“(Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade) staff,
especially those affected, as well as former (heads of mission), may
question the decision,” it continues. “Critics will position closures
as contrary to the government’s stated commitment to re-asserting
Canadian leadership internationally.”
Gar Pardy, a retired diplomat, said it was a significant decision not to tell Canadians about the closures.
“That’s what I find difficult. And to make that decision based on
the possibility that you’re going to have some criticism by interested
people, (that’s a) sad commentary,” Pardy said.
The memo shows the Tories weren’t thinking about foreign relations,
but about making sure nobody knew what they were doing, said NDP
foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar.
“This is the peekaboo with this government. When they don’t want
people to see or hear news … they bury it,” he said. “Why would you
release to people outside Canada and not tell Canadians?”
The closures were expected to save $2.2 million a year. The department’s budget for that year was just over $2 billion.
laura.payton@sunmedia.ca
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